Pamela Lee has no problem nailing her colours to the mast

The Greystones native is trying to find sponsorship to lead her own boat in an around-the-world race next year

Offshore sailing is a type of sailing that takes you out of sight of land for more than 12 miles offshore and lasts over 12 hours. It is an adventure, an exploration and a test of resilience. For some it's a hobby, but for three-time Round Ireland world record holding Pamela Lee it's a full-time career.

Within this career Greystones native Lee currently holds two considerable goals; firstly, to make sailing more accessible for Irish women, and, secondly, to lead a boat to the 2023 Class40 The Race Around, an around-the-world race in late summer 2023.

Both are ambitious, and like offshore sailing itself require commitment, confidence and a willingness to take risks. Both reflect the unpredictability of being a professional sailor; there is no straightforward solution for either.

Yet for Lee – who has gone from communications in DCU to a curating masters in London and is now living, working and sailing through French – it’s just another puzzle to be solved.


“It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I realised I could even do sailing as a career. I followed a normal path until I realised I could do it more and more, and then professionally and competing professionally. It’s a figure-it-out-for-yourself journey.”

Striving to be a professional (female) athlete is always precarious, but at least with the likes of soccer there is a route to professionalism. In sailing you have to cobble together experience yourself.

“It’s an odd but interesting sport,” says Lee, “It speaks so much to life as well. Often it’s the same with trying to get a job: you don’t have the experience, do the studies and qualifications but at the end of day it’s down to experience, so say to get the experience you need to work and sail with other people who have their own projects on their own boats.

“You can’t run a boat on your own, you need a team of people around you, to get a boat from A to B. It’s almost a series of internships: try to sail with skippers and sailors who are up the ladder from you, do a good job on their boat, get the experience, learn from them, helping them out, climb your way up, look for sponsorships to get your own boat to run your own project. That project ends and then it’s on to the next one.”

French team

For the last two years that is what Lee has been doing; “moving from one project to another, one training thing to another, seeing what came along”. She has since gotten a “more permanent position on a French team, where I help run the boat, as the boat captain and race crew and delivery crew. I’m with that team until the end of year, which gives a little bit of consistency as it’s part time.”

Like those who work an office job while setting up businesses in their free time, Lee strives to balance paying bills, learning from the job, and also working on the side ambitions.

“[The job] affords me the opportunity to work in the industry which is a great thing – it means I can make a living from it professionally. I have a certain amount to do to make money and balance that with time spent trying to find sponsorship to sail off my own back and to continue competing and training at a high level.”

It’s thanks to this job that she has the financial freedom to work towards her two goals, recently partnering with Irish Sailing in their first mentorship programme specifically to encourage Irish female sailors.

“We’re hoping this year to build and expand on it, get a few more mentors and a few more mentees, to continue growing this network of female sailors in Ireland, learning and progressing together.

“It’s about creating a place of encouragement, talking to people about it so that people see it and say: ‘that’s something I can do’. We want to make it more of a visible option.”

Own project

This ties into the second behemoth goal, the one that requires significant out-of-office and on-shore hours,

“I’m trying to find sponsorship to have my own boat and my own project so I can be doing my projects under my own name” – specifically, the 2023 Class40 The Race Around.

Lee will need a team and, axiomatically, a boat. “I am working on being in a position to have a boat and project to be on the startline for that race. If/when I have my own boat/project I want to be in a position to create opportunities and have as many Irish people on board.”

However, boats are expensive and not every sailor can afford them, so to get into races they essentially have to garner sponsorship. The best place to do this, says Lee, is France, due to the extremely developed sailing industry. In Ireland, she wouldn’t have the “opportunity to build my project, i.e. look for sponsorship and be able to make a living [in the sailing industry].”

The French sailing industry has a more streamlined approach to sponsorships, enabling them to better spend their time out on the water rather than courting investors. “In France all professional sailors run on commercial sponsorships, they’re essentially a sponsored athlete. There’s a really great network and ecosystem.”

A wide range of companies invest in sailors, from beauty to energy to meat processors.

“They understand the bigger story and picture behind the adventure and endurance of the sailors. There’s also tax incentives, where companies are encouraged to sponsor sport by the government,” says Lee.

Where she is in La Base, Lorient, the public too are invested, ensuring that the logos of sponsors are spotted by many. “The public can come and see the really big boats, most of which are sponsored, they’re covered in branding, but it just looks awesome and cool. There’s a happy ecosystem where everyone’s winning.”

Ideally Lee gets an Irish sponsorship in time for the 2023 Class40 The Race Around. “That would mean I’d get to have IRL on the boat, which would be great!”

In the meantime she has done and also has some “amazing racing” coming up, including returning to Ireland in June to do the Around Ireland Race, where she’ll be bringing a new race boat over, “which will be really cool”.

Instagram: pamybefree